“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting go of a little water.”   Christopher Morley

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After another conversation packed, sleepless night, the perfect stranger and I shared a late breakfast with our Canadian snow geese neighbors. Our breakfast backdrop: a river float plane, only reinforced the inevitable reality of the day. In a few hours, the perfect stranger would be boarding a plane bound for Long Beach, California and I would be returning home to a pending winter in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona.

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On paper, our worlds couldn’t be anymore different. In practice, our hearts were kindred spirits separated by a zip code. I resided in a remote community that had one gas station and a post office. The closest supermarket was two hours away.


The perfect stranger lived in Long Beach. I had forgotten what is was like to have access to the modern conveniences of malls and medical centers.


The perfect stranger’s recreational playground was the Pacific Ocean while I had the Paria and Colorado River at my disposal.



I gave up a career in mental health to pursue a simple life outdoors while the perfect stranger turned her passion into a non-profit foundation.


As we packed up camp, the perfect stranger and I committed ourselves to a round two adventure. We considered our eight day maiden voyage as round one. Where would we spend round two? If I were lucky, I would get the opportunity to show the perfect stranger around my neck of the woods.


Our 60-mile drive to Kingman airport was a mixed bag of emotions and round one reflections. The songs playing on my mp3 player felt more like a love story soundtrack than just an indie music playlist. The genius of song writing is when an artist captures your thoughts and sentiment in a song. Seldom do I hear limbically driven lyrics in mainstream music. Thank god for artists like Garrison Starr, Lovers and Poets, Vicci Martinez, and Jamestown Revival.


As we exited Interstate 40 for Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger called her mother in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the perfect stranger introduced me to her mother via speaker phone. Her mother asked me about our adventure. I mentioned that the perfect stranger and I were finishing our trip with a fever and sore throat. How do you tell a mother you are sending her daughter home sick for the holiday season? You don’t! Instead, you jokingly threaten to kidnap her daughter for the holidays. The perfect stranger’s mother caught me off guard when she invited me to North Carolina for Christmas.


If I didn’t have my dog child Shadow waiting at home for me, I would have booked the first flight out to North Carolina.


Pulling into the Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger seized upon another photo opportunity. Looking more like a country general store, the Kingman terminal possessed real character and charm.

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As the perfect stranger approached the check-in counter, she was greeted with a lecture about tardiness.  We had arrived at the airport twenty minutes before the flight. This did not make the Great Lakes Airlines staff member very happy.

sadSmileyThe perfect stranger did her best to remove the somber look from my face while her ticket was processed.  I wondered if it was possible to be happy and feel sad at the same time? My happiness I embraced; however, the complete utter feeling of loss was overwhelming. How could I fall for someone in eight days? I was not looking for romance on this adventure; a new adventure buddy would have been enough.


As her plane landed, the  perfect stranger was rushed outside to the TSA security check. There was no time for a long sentimental heartfelt goodbye; instead, it was a rushed embrace. All I wanted was simply to hold her.

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I had no words to convey how I felt. Perhaps tears are simply unspoken words that run down your face. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Thankfully, my sunglasses created a safe haven from public view. In my twenty’s and thirty’s I seldom cried in public. I could hold back a tear like a dam sustaining a flooding river. On this day, the dam broke and I would never be the same.

My drive home to Vermilion Cliffs was one of self reflection. Is it really possible to fall for someone in eight days? The answer is, YES!! Was I hopeful that I would see the perfect stranger sooner than later? Most definitely!


I remember when I left southern California and my friends expressed concern about my future love life. How would I ever find Ms. Right living in the middle of nowhere? My answer was very simple. I wasn’t looking for love; however, I was hopeful one day she would find me.


“We had come to Oatman for one reason, and for one reason only; to see the burros!”


After a late morning breakfast, the perfect stranger and I headed out to Oatman. This former mining town is only 30 miles from Laughlin, Nevada.


Many people consider Oatman to be a ghost town that refuses to die. One has to wonder, is it really ignoring death, or simply acknowledging the burro’s presence as a sustainable tourist attraction?


Burro’s were first brought to Oatman to haul rock, ore, water and mining supplies for gold prospectors. After the mines closed in 1942, the burros were freed and released into the surrounding hills.


While the highway sign reminded us to be cognizant of the burro’s presence, our attention was directed elsewhere.


Imagine driving down a quiet desert highway and finding Christmas decorations in the desert? Creativity comes to mind when I think about desert communities.


Citizens of the desert seem to have the ability to create something out of everything, even though the unappreciative might consider their “everything” as nothing.


This community had taken the time to wrap the desert brush in Christmas tinsel. If it wasn’t the hanging seasonal red bows capturing your attention, then it was undoubtedly the plastic hanging red cups promoting a senior singles group.



I wonder how many red cup connections have been made over the holiday season in Oatman?

Is a potential red cup romance any different than my Facebook connection with the perfect stranger?


My perfect stranger adventure was now evolving into an emotional romance.

Can an established emotional intimacy be more powerful than a physical one?

Is it common to merge two names and then consider yourself a brand?

Is this my destiny; last name Black?


These were some of the questions floating around in my head before I misplaced my glasses.


As cars drove by, we scoured the desert floor looking for my glasses. Not being able to see is a major problem when you’re the designated driver and navigator. Fortunately, the perfect stranger kept me calm until we found my specs.


With a final acknowledgment of my new name, we jumped back into the car and continued on to Oatman.

THE PERFECT STRANGER – PART 6 – Never-Ending Questions

In the late afternoon, the perfect stranger and I arrived in the casino town of Laughlin. Harrah’s casino and hotel would be our base camp for the next three days. Where else can you shower, do laundry, and prepare gear for a kayaking trip for a mere $26 a night.


Laughlin is located on the far southern tip of Nevada, just 90 miles south of Las Vegas. Understandably, you won’t find Celine Dion performing here, nor can you expect to see a Cirque du Soleil show. However, it’s the lure of the Colorado River that attracts over 2 million visitors a year.


During the summer, Laughlin is considered a hot spot for swimming, fishing, and boating. The mild winter months offer a haven for traveling snow birds and pristine kayaking conditions for solitude seekers.


Topock Gorge was my main reason for visiting Laughlin. The 16 mile paddle through a mountainous section of the Colorado River had been on my “to do list” for over a decade. Our launch site was only 40 miles south of Laughlin, making the casino town the perfect headquarters for trip preparations. 

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Have you ever tried to navigate your way around a casino?

Have you ever noticed the deliberate circuitous paths?

Casino rotaries feel more like a corn maze than a pathway to a much needed shower.

Have you ever noticed that most restaurants will be positioned in the center or at the back of a casino?

Casino psychology is all about keeping you “in house” for as long as possible.

Have you ever found yourself lost inside a casino and your only support system was the poker machines inviting you to come closer in their loudest possible voice?

Imagine if poker machines came with a silencer?

Would you activate the quiet button, or does the constant noise create such excitement that winning at the slots seems possible?

Have you ever heard the sound of losing in a casino?

What if every loss was broadcasted over the casino P.A. system?

How do we convince ourselves that winning is more common than losing?

Is it the sirens or the sound of coins hitting the metal pay out tray that give us the impression that we too could win?

It’s rather depressing watching people hunched over a slot machine. How can such a mechanical game invoke such concentration?

How does one focus on winning at a slot machine?

Is it a numbers game, prayer, or more active meditation?

Could gambling be seen as a wealth building strategy?

If so, does gambling offer hope to those who are struggling financially?

Does gambling create more poverty among patrons than wealth?

These are some of the thoughts that ran through my head while making my way to the hotel registration desk. Perhaps I should have been focused on my new reality; for the next few days I would be sharing a hotel room with the perfect stranger. This change in focus would only lead to more internalized questions.

How do I transition from sharing tight sleeping quarters in a van’s cargo area to a large hotel suite?


Is it more intimate to share a fully functioning bathroom as opposed to a parking lot porta potty?

At what point did a simple adventure trip start to feel like a weeklong getaway with a potential future wife?

Yes, I said wife, she made that much of an impression on my heart and mind!

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As we headed back to the parking garage to grab our gear, we found ourselves in silly playful moods. The shiny, slippery tile walkway made for a great break dancing floor. I couldn’t help myself, a knee spin was in order.

On the return trip back to our hotel room, we played at the casino fountain. It has always bothered me that fountains tend to be gendered when it comes to urinating. I have always wanted to change that, so I did!


What is the significance of water fountains at casinos, resort hotels, and gated communities?

Does having a fountain create a sense of culture and credibility?

Does it give a three star hotel a five star ambiance?

Are fountains the equivalent to chandeliers in nursing home foyers?

Does a fountain or chandelier guarantee better service?

This would be yet another day the perfect stranger would be lending an ear to my endless questions about life, living, and the world around me. Fortunately we both consider ourselves nerds. Perhaps this is why I feel she gets me!



“For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships” Deborah Tamen

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Imagine rolling your knee minutes before the start of your dream hike?

Would you cancel your backpacking trip or soldier on?

Would you risk your personal safety because you cannot stomach the pending disappointment pill?

Would you try to convince your hiking partner that you can walk 24 miles on a bum knee?

Is it selfish to continue or selfless to cancel?

How do two strangers negotiate the inevitable?

Is negotiating something to be feared and avoided, or is it an everyday part of life?

Is it possible to negotiate an ending with the promise of a new beginning?

How does one say “NO” without denying a “YES?”

These are some of the questions I pondered after Clarissa injured her knee. In my opinion, I felt it was not safe to venture down into the canyon with a 35 lb backpack. Granted she could helicopter out if needed, but why risk furthering an injury.

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How do you tell the perfect stranger that we need to postpone our dream adventure?

Do you redirect her focus to the kayaking leg of the trip, or perhaps offer a substitute hike shorter in distance?

How do you reconcile an injury in the outdoors?

In many ways I feel it’s like fast tracking grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are the five emotional stages of grief that Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross accurately described in her book, “On Death and Dying”. These five emotional stages can be applied to all realms of loss, including injuries in the outdoors.


Denial – for the most part is imagining a false yet preferable reality. “My knee is not that bad; I can do this backpacking trip.”

Anger – the moment when you realize the denial cannot continue, and the frustration builds leading to anger. “It’s risky, but I have come all this way and I don’t want to leave empty handed.”

Bargaining – can feel like extended periods of unrealistic hope. “I can lighten my pack, perhaps helicopter out, I can wrap my knee, maybe even ice it in the river.”

Depression – for hikers it could mean being saddened by certainty. “My knee injury will not permit me to complete our backpacking trip.”

Acceptance – facing the inevitable. “So we won’t be backpacking this trip, rain check?”


As a team we discussed the options during our cliffside pow wow. Disheartened and extremely disappointed, we both agreed to a short day hike.


On a positive note, Clarissa’s knee injury demonstrated our communication and problem solving skills. Our resolution was fueled by respect and motivated by mindfulness. The outcome could have been much different had we both lacked in emotional intelligence.


How often have you found yourself in situations where a friend or colleague is unable to reason, manage and understand their emotions?

Have you ever noticed that many people struggle to express their feelings in a non-shaming/blaming manner?

Even worse, have you ever encountered a loved one who was incapable of understanding, interpreting, and responding to the emotions of others?

How does one learn or develop their social and emotional intelligence?

Do we assume that a human’s ability to cope with emotions is innate, a matter of temperament, or somehow magically acquired?

Do we place more value on intellect as opposed to emotional IQ?

Is our education system lacking by not teaching or testing emotional literacy?

Is it realistic to expect a child to learn with unregulated emotions?

I feel emotions can either enhance or hinder our ability to learn. In the second grade my teacher told me to calm down.  How do you calm down when you’re feeling anxious?

Where do kids learn the skills to manage feelings? Many children never learn the crucial skill off emotion regulation, let alone develop their emotional IQ.

Is it academic intellect or emotional literacy that will determine a child’s adult employment, health and interpersonal relationships?

Could emotional literacy be the missing piece that limits and robs adults of happier more peaceful lives?


I was one of those kids who never developed emotional intelligence; however, I was born with an innate sense of resilience. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I realized I had no clue how to express resentment, anger, or even joy for that matter. Fortunately, over the years I have developed my emotional IQ; otherwise, our pow wow conversation might have been rather disastrous.


In honor of our commitment to friendship, the perfect stranger and I headed down into the canyon. Granted it was a short hike; however, the views were nothing short of spectacular.


Once again, we found ourselves enjoying the solitude of the canyon; sharing it with no one except ourselves. I treated Clarissa to an occipital and foot massage. Who gets massaged with a backdrop like this? The perfect stranger does!


In a few hours, we would be on the road again, bound for Laughlin, Nevada. I will always consider this spot Massage Point, and the place where I met someone who was emotionally available.


“Stupidity isn’t punishable by death. If it was, there would be a hell of a population drop” Laurel K Hamilton


A few hours before sunset we arrived at a rather empty trailhead parking lot. During peak season, this parking lot is jam-packed with cars and flooded with tourists, day hikers, and backpackers. Obtaining hiking permits for Havasupai during the tourist season is extremely difficult, as many backpackers book permits months in advance. If you are seeking a quieter more tranquil Havasupai experience, I highly recommend visiting during off-season.


As a helicopter flew overhead, I was quickly reminded that tourism is the main economic base; providing jobs for the various tribal enterprises such as the Supai Lodge, Tourist Office, Store, and Cafe.


Helicopters and mules transport all the supplies down into Supai Village. If backpacking ten miles down to Havasupai Falls is not your cup of tea; then flying in by helicopter or a canyon mule ride are viable $$ alternatives.

Historically Speaking


The Havasupai roamed the vast area of the upper plateau regions, subsisting by hunting and gathering, prior to the Grand Canyon being turned into a nation park in the early 1900’s. During the spring and summer months, they moved back to the Canyon and planted gardens.


The federal government created the reservation in 1882, resulting in loss of almost 90 percent of the Tribe’s original land. Confining the Tribe to only 518 acres, it forced families to rely more on farming and ultimately seeking wage labor outside the canyon.

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Over time, the Tribe began to rely solely on tourism, as people started visiting their beautiful homeland. In 1975, Congress re-allocated 185,000 acres of its original hunting grounds back to the Havasupai.

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Forty years later, I find myself looking down into the sacred lands of the Havasupai. With only 650 recorded Tribe members, they are considered one of the smallest Indian Tribes in the nation.



As Clarissa and I enjoyed our late afternoon cloud show, I wondered just how cold our night in the car would be. With expected overnight temperatures in the high teens, my four season tent would be the warmest option as opposed to the Suburban icebox. Unfortunately, tent camping at the trail head parking lot is not permitted; so tonight’s base camp would be an inflatable mattress squashed into the van’s cargo space.

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Granted our camp conditions were far from ideal; however, I could not complain. Clarissa quickly reminded me that we had front row seats to the biggest, brightest, most colorful meteor shower, the Geminid.


I have to confess, I was a tad embarrassed when the perfect stranger asked if I was well versed in astronomy. Oddly enough, identifying stars and planets has never really interested me. Knowing that they exist is enough for me. Tonight would be different though. I would have my own personal tour guide to the night sky. I would be formally introduced to my nighttime neighbors.


As we waited for our dinner to boil, Clarissa offered a quick astronomy 101 tutorial. Sadly, not even a thousand classes would help me identify a single star. In order to locate a star, I must be able to physically see it. My strength has never been my vision; at night, consider me blind!


With the evening temperature dropping at a rapid rate, we decided to bundle up in the car while we waited for the meteor shower to begin. The sky was crystal clear, with near perfect visibility. Clarissa was optimistic I would see at least one meteor, failing eyesight or not.


Welcome to camp Suburban! This is where a full-size mattress and backpacking gear fits into the confines of the back seat and trunk space.

This is also where two women realized that a sense of humor is extremely attractive! A strong sense of humor is generally associated with intelligence and honesty. Our day was a mutual exchange of tennis match sarcasm, nerdy science speak and an uncensored sharing of life experiences.

Could our never-ending playful bantering be the catalyst to team happiness? I think so! At times, I feel individual happiness is rather contagious when shared. It’s hard not to like someone who is happy. It’s even harder not to fall for someone who is simply enjoyable to be around.


A little before ten o’clock we crawled out of our sleeping bags and ventured into the parking lot. Besides some stabled pack mules and roaming res dogs, we had the entire hilltop and the Geminid meteor shower to ourselves.


To my surprise, I witnessed ten meteors; a huge accomplishment for someone who expected to see none. For a lover of the sky, I could tell Clarissa was in meteor shower heaven. Bright lights were blazing through the sky at a fast and furious pace, and somehow she had the ability to follow each and every one of them.


Just after midnight, we returned to our four-wheeled icebox. It was going to be a very long cold night in the Suburban. Even though we had winter gear, the chill inside the car seemed far colder than the outside air temperature.


Imagine trying to build a friendship cemented in boundaries and trust?

If the temperatures dropped too low, would you be comfortable sharing body heat with a perfect stranger?

Have you ever held someone and noticed your breathing was automatically in synch?

Deep down you know there is a gravitational pull that keeps you wanting more. Yet, there is no rush!

In my 40’s, I would rather establish emotional intimacy through the sharing of thoughts and experiences, as opposed to using physical intimacy to fast track closeness. In my younger years, I feel I was lacking in emotional intelligence. I was incapable of being emotionally and socially vulnerable, so physical intimacy became the medium. In hindsight, I was campaigning for instamacy yet never cultivating intimacy.


Thankfully, it was our beanie hats, neck gaiters, fleece jackets, and down sleeping bags that facilitated our warmth through the night. As chilled as we both were, I think our bladders suffered the most. I was not willing to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag, nor was Clarissa for that matter. After holding my urine for over 7 hours, my bladder responded like a resentful unheard spouse; by simply turning away from me and pretending to be asleep. My bladder was officially in hibernation, yet my heart was wide awake.


As I looked outside the car window, it was the morning glow on the surrounding cliffs that reminded me of one important life lesson.

“Show up, expect nothing, and let the universe reveal herself on her own terms.”